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Fahrenheit 451: The Burning of American Culture

A Senior Project

presented to

the Faculty of the History Department

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree

in History, Bachelor of Arts

by
David Fox
June, 2011

2011 David Fox


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At a time when the Red Scare could utterly destroy the lives of any non-conformist

(yes, this is undeniably part of United States history), Ray Bradbury rebelliously wrote

Fahrenheit 451. This was a difficult time in American history when loyalty oaths, an

irrational fear of Communism, and Cold War ethics reigned supreme. Ray Bradbury used

Science Fiction to explore, the art of the possible to look into the future but its really

looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us.1 With Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury

realized this aim.

My mission is to build off of the multitude of previous works by synthesizing their

interpretations and extending them to illuminate the value of Bradburys novel. My work will

stand in contrast to the existing literature by using a decidedly more intention lectoris

(intention of the reader) interpretation style.2 Fahrenheit 451 was a product of its time and

ours. Every novel operates and is rooted in a certain time period and it even remains relevant

today. It served as Bradburys vehicle to instruct Americans on the reality of a sociopolitical

world dominated by mutually assured destruction, mass homogenization of culture, and Cold

War strife.

1
Weller, Sam. Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203. The Paris Review. Spring 2010.
2
Umberto Eco. Interpretation and Over Interpretation: World, History, Texts. (Paper presented at Claire Hall,
Cambridge University, March 7-8, 1990): Umberto Eco talks about the fact that meaning can be attained not
only through the creative process of the author but also through the interpretive process of the reader. When
reading a text it is important to read not only literally, but also metaphorically and symbolically; that is to say, a
reader must take part in both semantic interpretation and critical interpretation when reading a text. Yet, if an
interpretation does not fit within the limits provided by a text and the type of reading being done, the
interpretation could be invalid. Eco defines interpreting a text as discovering something about the text itself.
However, to use a text is to read a text for some other purpose than just reading the text itself. He uses the
vocabulary of intentio operis (intention of the author) and intentio lectoris (intention of the reader) to talk
about different interpretations.

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Analysis on Fahrenheit 451 can be divided into three major camps. The first of these

camps analyze the novels themes of censorship. However, they mainly focus on motivations

for the novel in Bradburys personal life (i.e. the burning of the Library of Alexandria that had

an affect on him as well as Nazi book burning). These sources rely too much on Bradburys

own interpretation of his novel. Bradbury claims that Fahrenheit 451 shows that danger is

what is not going on in our schools, referring to growing illiteracy that makes people

vulnerable to propaganda. Additionally, issues like contradictory minority group agendas and

the importance of libraries against mind numbing mass culture that is moronic at the lowest

level shows Bradburys true feelings.3 This emphasis that Bradbury has pushed in most

interviews guides the discourse to focus too much on literacy censorship and the fate of

libraries/ignorant masses.4

Another camp evaluates the novel as a triumph of Science Fiction literary flair and

subject matter. However, it lacks historical context that is so crucial in understanding

Fahrenheit 451.5 Yet from those sources it is important to understand the literary value of the

novel as it connects to its genre. A lot of background information comes from the fact that the

novel is rooted in the specific historical moment of the 1950s Golden Age of Science

Fiction.

3
Steven Aggelis ed. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004: 141-142.
4
The works that examine the biographical connections and rely on Bradburys interpretation of his novel are:
Sam Weller. The Bradbury Chronicles. New York: William Morrow, 2005; Sam Weller. Ray Bradbury, The
Art of Fiction No. 203. The Paris Review. Spring 2010; Sam Weller. Listen to the Echo: The Ray Bradbury
Interviews. Brooklyn and Chicago: Melville House Publishing, 2010; and Jonathan Eller and William Touponce.
Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent and London: The Kent State University Press, 2004.
5
The works that look at the literary value and science fiction are: Robin Anne Reid. Ray Bradbury: A Critical
Companion. London and Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000; Peter Sisaro. A Study of Allusions in
Bradburys Fahrenheit 451. The English Journal 59, no. 2 (February 1970): 201-205+212; Adam Roberts. The
History of Science Fiction. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; and George Bluestone. The Fire and the
Future. Film Quarterly 20, no 4 (Summer, 1967): 3-10.
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Lastly, some fit the novel into the historical context of the time when Bradbury was

writing. These authors draw on specific historical events like McCarthyism, Cold War

politics, and the rise of mass culture through advertising. However, they do not go into

significant depth (based on the wealth of historical parallels) and at best offer a cursory over-

simplified analysis of the historical issues that Bradbury could have drawn on for inspiration.6

For example, Paul Bryans article, Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451 and the Dystopian

Tradition only gives random historical facts about the 1950s and doesnt synthesize the

information well. Other works like McGiverons article touches on the 50s but likewise

misses building the foundation for Fahrenheit 451 in any historical depth.7

While there are various ways of looking at Fahrenheit 451, they need to be brought

together by understanding the contemporary swell of events that moved Bradbury to write in a

rebellious tone. These events will best be understood by also synthesizing the sociopolitical

reality surrounding the publishing of this novel. This synthesis will lead to a more holistic

view of the novel. The only way of approaching Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451 is by

combining context, genre, and historical evidence. Sam Weller, his most extensive

biographer, seems to be striving for that ideal but his pitfall is that he focuses too much on

biography and is too cautious about offending Bradbury by defying his interpretation of his

own novels. Bradbury cleverly created a lesson plan in Fahrenheit 451 by drawing on

6
The works that quickly examine the historical motivations are: Paul Brians. Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451
and the Dystopian Tradition. 31 October 2007; Eric Wetzel. "The firebrand: fifty years after its publication, Ray
Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451 shows no sign of flaming out." Book (Oct. 2003); Rafeeq O.
McGiveron,.Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451. Explicator 54, no. 3 (Spring 1996):177-180; Ibid What Carried
the Trick?: Mass Exploitation and the Decline of Thought in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Extrapolation 37,
no. 3 (Fall 1996): 245-256; and Kevin Hoskinson. The Martian Chronicles and 'Fahrenheit 451': Ray Bradbury's
Cold War Novels. Extrapolation 36, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 345-359.
7
Rafeeq O. McGiveron,Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451. Explicator 54, no. 3 (Spring 1996):177-180
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contemporary thought and events. My analysis will bring together the works that show that

Bradbury opened the eyes of his fellow citizens to the realities that he saw in his society and

government at that time in America.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a future that is immediate, personal, and intimate, to create

an atmosphere that is strange rather than extravagant. Bradbury wanted the book to remain

relatable, so he created the, world as we know it, but with a slight anticipation in time.8 It

chronicles the life of a fireman in the future, Guy Montag, who actually sets books on fire to

keep the public ignorantly happy. Guy is the main pusher of this sensory driven, hedonistic

society. His wife Mildred is the main consumer. She always has seashell radio buds in her

ears, is engrossed by mindless short sitcoms (with characters which she affectingly calls

family), and has an irrational fear of the subversive nature of books. Guys life completely

changes when he meets a troubled young girl Clarisse McClellan, who prompts him to

evaluate his life and work. The novel traverses Guys constant inner-struggle and outward

battle between conforming to social norms while flirting with the subversive desire to read

books. He meets both obstacles and supporters (fire captain Beatty and former professor

Faber, respectively) in his quest for knowledge. The novel chronicles Montags spiral

downward, out of his respected position as a fireman; it also follows his rise to a wannabe

academic trying to find like-minded individuals to salvage the world. This all culminates in a

very public police chase which stops only after an innocent man is killed and the city is

destroyed by an atomic bomb. The final scene is a poignant reflection on the possibility that

8
George Bluestone. The Fire and the Future. Film Quarterly 20, no 4 (Summer, 1967): 3.
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Guy and his hobo academics can rebuild the world anew, like a phoenix rising from the

ashes.9

Fahrenheit 451 cemented Bradbury as one of the most impressive writers of the mid-

twentieth century and his novel contributed immensely to the development of the troubled

history of Science Fiction. The only book Ive written thats science fiction is Fahrenheit

451. Thats political and psychological science fiction, a surprising claim from a man who is

often identified exclusively with the Science Fiction genre.10 In various interviews, he is

contentious about being labeled as any sort of author bound by a genre because writing under

a formula is too restrictive because according to Bradbury, a good writer creates out of

need.11 Therefore, the reader is able to fluidly place him among different genres based on

their perceived understanding of his stories. With Fahrenheit 451 he considered himself a

Science Fiction author because he saw the need of something he dislike[d] in our society and

explode[d] on spot about it.12 Understanding the literary time period and genre preceding

Fahrenheit 451 is important in grounding it in terms of historical development.

During the Depression Science Fiction served as a literature of distraction that was

quickly and cheaply published for mass consumption.13 His early impression of Science

Fiction revolved around wild stories that were set in exotic and wonderful locales which

were almost entirely devoid of literary wealth; these were simple entertainment stories for

people in the gloomy days of the Depression.14 These cheap stories interested and entertained

9
Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950: 1-150.
10
Steven Aggelis ed. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004: 192.
11
Ibid, 17.
12
Ibid, 17.
13
Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 174-175.
14
Ibid.
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Bradbury. However, there was a void left in the genre for a good writer who could create

Science Fiction literature with substance that would spur intellectual discourse.

This early era of mainstream Science Fiction was packaged and sold to the public in

such magazines as Weird Tales andAmazing Stories. The literary structure was

discredited as a branch of escape reading and the reception of Science Fiction as a genre

was treated as such.15 Outside of the realm of Science Fiction, Bradburys fellow Golden Age

Science Fiction author Fredrick Pohl noted that, there was no television, radio showed little

interest in science, even the daily newspapers covered it scantily and not very well.16 Prior

to what is known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction (the 1940s through the 1960s,

when Fahrenheit 451 was published) many literary critics assumed that Science Fiction

would only cater to the adolescent mind with glorious action stories filled with blasters

and super-rockets and energizers. The main reason why one school district rejected the genre

in the classroom was because good science fiction, like the good man, is hard to find.17

However, Science Fiction did engage in current issues and concerns before the Golden Age.

The rise of Science Fiction as a genre of social criticism was due to the desire to leave the,

currently inhospitable field of the present to the more secure area of the distant future or the

past.18 A major difference between early Science Fiction and the Golden Age is that the

stories were less pessimistic, less fatalistic, and more about exploring the exciting what ifs

15
August Derleth. Contemporary Science-Fiction. College English, 13, no. 4 (Jan., 1952): 188.
16 Frederick Pohl, Astounding Story, American Heritage 40, no. 6 (September/October 1989)
http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1989/6/1989_6_42.shtml.
17L.W. Michaelson, Social Criticism in Science Fiction. The Antioch Review, 14, no. 4 (Winter, 1954): 504;

Francis Abernethy. The Case for and against Sci-Fi. The Clearing House, 34, no. 8 (Apr. 1960): 475.
18Michaelson, Social Criticism in Science Fiction, 502.
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about a material technical age.19 Bradbury was drawn to Science Fiction and was able to build

on the stories that came before him.

The context of the Golden Age of Science Fiction is important to examine in order

to understand the mutual contributions that Fahrenheit 451 had on this genre and how the

genres moment in time affected the novel. Bradbury certainly looked like the typical white,

male North American writers that completely dominated the Golden Age.20 His publications

before Fahrenheit 451 were highly praised throughout the Science Fiction genre. Fahrenheit

451 was a win for popularizing the Science Fiction genre, as well as breaking through its

ranks and having mass appeal. With his novel, Bradbury changed from the Nineteen Eighty-

Four mode of outraged anger and was able to achieve social criticism in the Science Fiction

genre with under the skin oddnessthat is gentle.21 Bradbury was able to burst onto the

scene with Fahrenheit 451 to help change the attitude toward Science Fiction and it was

reviewed well.

True, this novel got more attention than other Science Fiction works. Yet it still

defined the genre by offering a shining example of the element that other Science Fiction

novels should incorporate to be successful. Just because it was popular across genres did not

remove it from the fact that it was still a Science Fiction novel. In fact, it more so acted as the

catalyst that tapped in to what the readers wanted. It brought in a new hoard of people that

previously did not pay attention to Science Fiction because they did not realize its potential

before Fahrenheit 451. He did give the literary community an example of a writer who could

19Ibid,505.
20Roberts,203.
21Roberts,218.
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stand head and shoulders above all other Science-Fiction [writers] in our time. He was still

writing escape literature but the difference was that Bradburys stories were bound to the

credo that the primary study of the author is man.22 This humano-centric focus that

Bradbury utilized in Fahrenheit 451 helped Science Fiction gain its due respect.23 In The

History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts gives this concise summary of the Golden Age that

was characterized by stories that appeared in Campbells Astounding magazine:

The sorts of stories that Campbell liked were the idea-fictions rooted in recognizable

science (and later in his long career, in pseudo-sciences such as telepathy); can-do

stories about heroes solving problems or overcoming enemies, expansionist humano-

centric (and often phallo-centric) narratives, extrapolations of possible technologies

and their social and human impactsit is the man, not the idea of the machine, that is

the essence.24

This Golden Age philosophy perfectly describes Fahrenheit 451 and shows how this

novel really made the genre. The recognizable science of TVs (yes, larger than they were

in 1953 but not too much of an abstract idea), the familiar suburban setting, and reverse

firefighting in Fahrenheit 451 are all things that were easily processed by Americans at that

time. The can-do story culminates when Guy realizes that the fireman structure itself could

be burnt and sets down the path to restore an academic society.25 The social and human

impact of technology is prevalent throughout the book as well. For example, the mechanical

hound would monitor suspected book readers and bring the offenders to justice when the

22August Derleth. Contemporary Science-Fiction. College English, 13, no. 4 (Jan., 1952): 191.
23Roberts,195196.
24Ibid,195.
25Bradbury,Fahrenheit451,86.
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four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the Hound to inject

massive jolts of morphine to subdue a subversive book reader.26 Another terrifying human

impact of technology that is showcased in the novel is the atomic bomb that turns the city into

a heap of baking powder (but curiously enough Bradbury manages to turn this into a

positive thing).27 It seems that Bradbury had the recipe for success. He operated within the

Golden Age of Science Fiction, his political stance as a liberal intellectual and his hard-line

against unregulated technology allowed him to explore his political stance in the literary

Science Fiction world.

While Sam Weller seems to accept Bradburys idea that his writing is balanced and

avoids overtly socially liberal ideals, it is clear that Bradburys novels were strongly

influenced by his more liberal slant during this time. Bradbury volunteered for the Adlai

Stevenson campaign and worked on Eugene McCarthys presidential bid in the 60s, so there

is tangible evidence that throughout his early years he had strongly aligned with the

Democratic Party.28 In 1952, Bradbury was fed up with politics as usual in Washington, DC.

A very telling speech that shows his liberal leanings was given before the National Womens

Committee of Brandeis University. This came directly after the election of Dwight D.

Eisenhower, a decidedly conservative victory. The speech, No Man is an Island, was a

risky, rallying cry extolling the virtues of free speech, the power of the written word to

which Bradbury has even remarked he, was on a roll while railing against the closed

26Ibid,36.
27Ibid,147.

28Weller.Listen to the Echo: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn and Chicago: Melville House Publishing,
2010, 173.
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political conservative climate.29 Bradburys publications that came before Fahrenheit 451,

like The Big Black and White Game examine race relations and show his more socially

liberal values.30 It is undeniable that even the novel directly preceding Fahrenheit 451 is

influence by a liberal slant on issues. In his famous Science Fiction novel, The Martian

Chronicles there are, musings on environmental issues, nuclear proliferation, colonization,

and war.31 The novel shows that Bradbury could not separate his political ideology from

influencing his books. Even so, Bradbury is hesitant to apply any political labels to himself or

his writing, but the affect that his political slant has on the themes in his novels before

Fahrenheit 451 proves how Bradbury was not afraid to make statements through his fantastic

stories.

The themes in Fahrenheit 451 were shaped by Bradburys status as a post-WWII

liberal intellectual and honorable representative of the Science Fiction genre. In order to more

clearly evaluate how Bradburys political ideology influenced his writing it is important to

look at one specific subject, such as technology. Bradbury undoubtedly understood that the

atomic bomb and the growing interest in a world full of technological advancements helped

Science Fiction (and Fahrenheit 451) to break out of its literary ghetto, as [it] began to

appear in mass-circulation magazines like Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post.32

However, unlike many of his contemporaries (think Isaac Asimov), Bradbury seemed

violently opposed to machinery in almost any form because of what he thought it could do

29Weller. The Bradbury Chronicles. New York: William Morrow, 2005, 195.
30
Weller. Listen to the Echo: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn and Chicago: Melville House Publishing,
2010, 168.
31
Ibid.
32
Paul Boyer. By the Bombs Early Light. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press,
1985): 257.
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to the masses.33 This peculiar stance against technology, while not completely foreign to

Science Fiction, can best be understood in the tension created by Bradburys place as a liberal

in this conservative age in America. In addition to his Island speech, Bradburys liberal

stance is showcased in his 1952 Letter to the Republican Party. In the letter, he publicly

declared that there is too much fear in a country that has no right to be afraid and demands

that the Republicans leave our individual rights alone. He even goes as far to say, God

help us if you lay a hand on any one of us again or try to twist the Constitutionto your

purposes.34 It was impossible for his stance as a liberal thinker not to cross with his dislike

for technology. True, for some the idea of more technology brings liberation and happiness.

Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451, however, operate on the assumption that technology has the

power for good but is oftentimes used for evil at the hands of the masses.

This idea of being reserved on the issue of technology was ingrained in Bradbury

when he saw the abuses of his government and mass thought, even before such advanced

technology that he was dreaming up became a reality. Technology would only exacerbate the

abuses against the masses. In The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age, Richard Pells

describes Fahrenheit 451 and Bradburys motivations perfectly. His thesis is that liberals (and

by extension liberal literature) during the 1950s rebelled against cultural and social norms and

were ever more skeptical of grandiose projects to remodel...human nature.35Although,

Fahrenheit 451 never abandons the liberal political activism that Pells deemphasized.

33
Richard Donovan. Morals from Mars. The Reporter, IV June 26, 1951, 38.
34Sam Weller. The Bradbury Chronicles. New York: William Morrow, 2005: 195-96.
35Richard Pells. The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age: American Intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s.

Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989: 119.


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Bradbury harmoniously integrates the social critique along with the political critique to create

a well-rounded piece on American thought from a liberal perspective.

Fahrenheit 451 could be seen as a socio-political treatise while Science Fiction served

as the perfect genre to make Bradburys intellectual case. The novel extrapolates the power of

technology in the hands of the aforementioned oppressive conservatives who could disguise

the dumbing down of America through mass culture.36 Bradbury was a self-taught

intellectual, which fundamentally required his novel to be opposed to the insidious, leveling

forces of mass culture, in the words of brilliant historian George Cotkin.37 This charged him

with exposing, for example, the suburban phenomenon of inexpensive and bland housing,

[which] represented the future as conformity and complacency.38 No man who was so

attuned to the realities of his world to such a degree as Bradbury would ever feel comfort in a

future of conformity. Therefore, Bradbury used Fahrenheit 451 to tear down the things he

hated about society while trying to purport this great truth [he] want[ed] to tell, without

pontificating.39 However, it is worth noting that many SF writers, have chosen to work in

this medium for artistic reasons and are, only incidentally, social reformers, but social

reformers nonetheless.40 It seems like Science Fiction both lends itself easily to make socially

reforming stories and attracts talent that is often interested in making a change. This tactic of

using Science Fiction as a way to speak out was well received by many and scrutinized by

others.

36
Aggelis, 141; Weller. The Bradbury Chronicles: 202.
37
George Cotkin. The Tragic Predicament: Post-war American Intellectuals, Acceptance and Mass Culture. In
Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushie, Edited by Jeremy Jennings and Anthony
Kemp-Welch, (New York: Routlage, 1997): 250.
38
George Cotkin. The Tragic Predicament: Post-war American Intellectuals, Acceptance and Mass Culture.:
251.
39
Sam Weller. Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203. The Paris Review. Spring 2010.
40
Michaelson, Social Criticism in Science Fiction, 504.
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In 1953, book reviews and literature commentators had plenty to say about the novel;

some critics hated it, some loved it, while others were confused and cautious about it. To be

certain, in most circles the book was warmly received in 1953.41 Even though it was widely

reviewed in a positive light Bradbury has publicly stated that, none of my books sell worth a

damn when they first come out. 42 Those that positively received Fahrenheit 451 admire the

novel for helping people understand that the United States was not too far from the reality of

Bradburys story. They also admiringly praised Bradbury as a talented Science Fiction writer

with a penchant towards exposing the near future in new ways. Doug Guzman of the LA

TIMES said that, Bradbury has taken todays fear of dangerous thoughts and wordsand he

has projected this fearBradbury does not like the civilization in which we exist; he praises

Bradbury for waking people up to reality with such stylistic prose and engaging storytelling.43

Orville Prescott from the NY TIMES claims, Mr. Bradburys account of this insane world,

which bears many alarming resemblances to our own, is fascinating.44 While still another

reviewer commented that Fahrenheit 451 should step out and take hold of you because

recent tendencies in American history point to the fact that Bradbury examined fundamental

problems with American society and simply carried these ideas to their logical

conclusions.45 These positive reviews indicate that there was a receptive audience in 1953

that had the same cautionary eye as Bradbury. This novel came at the tail end of McCarthyism

so the American public saw the rise and fall of radical censorship and witch-hunt tactics.

41
Paul Brians. Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451 and the Dystopian Tradition. 31 October 2007.
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/science_fiction/451.htm. (Accessed 17 January 2011).
42
Aggelis, 192.
43
Don Guzman. Storyteller of Future Also a Social Critic. Los Angeles Times, 25 October 1953, D7.
44
Orville Prescott. Books of the Times. New York Times, 21 October 1953, L27.
45
Earl Heath. Reading and Writers. The Stanstead Journal, 15 October 1953, 4.
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Other reviewers, representative of another typically more conservative segment of the

population, understood the points of Fahrenheit 451 but criticized it on multiple levels.

The negative reviews and reception of Fahrenheit 451 came from people who were

angered that Bradbury would even try to make such dastardly claims against the United States

during the Cold War.46 For example, in The Denver Post in 1953 Roscoe Fleming believed

that the story put mans egounder direct attack while another critic lambastes the novel

because it predict[ed] a future grim enough to please the sourest of contemporary

pessimists.47 While this doesnt sound outwardly critical, the way many reviewers write

makes it sound like Bradbury had personally offended all Americans. These negative reviews

didnt necessarily attack Bradburys interpretation of America at that time, but rather hated

what Bradbury exposed. J. McComas from the NY TIMES thought that the book was

uncomfortable because it portrays many fundamental parts of American culture (technology,

automobiles, and tv) in a way that is grisly and unsettling.48 The substance of the

numerous reviews, both positive and negative on Fahrenheit 451, show that Bradbury was

particularly adept at making meaningful connections that were obvious to his audience

through the genre of Science Fiction. By sticking to the principles purported by Campbell,

Bradbury was able to make claims and model his novel around political and social statements

that the public actually understood. Whether or not the public cared to apply the criticisms to

their lives is another story. Fahrenheit 451 was a controversial novel that was written at a

difficult time in American history because it elicited strong emotions on both sides of its

46
Other critics that negatively reviewed Fahrenheit 451 are: August Derleth. Vivid Prophesy of Book
Burning. Chicago Sunday Tribune. 25 October 1953. 6; Stanley J. Kunitz ed. Twentieth Century Authors: First
Supplement. New York, 1955. 111-12.
47
L.W Michaelson. Social Criticism in Science Fiction. The Antioch Review, 14, no. 4 (Winter, 1954): 305.
48
J. Francis McComas. The Spacemans Realm. The New York Times 8 November 1953.
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interpretation. However, it was not as hated or polarizing some might think. Bradbury has

even stated that, few people attacked me for writing an anti-McCarthy novel. I was able to

propagandize without getting myself stoned or pummeled.49 Yet it wasnt overlooked. This

is further evidenced by the fact that the U.S. government investigated him and there was an

FBI file made on him.50 Therefore, Bradbury subjected himself to a lot of risk that was

involved with publishing this type of in your face novel that challenged mainstream

American values.

One of the reasons that the novel was such a risky hit and has continued to resonate

with readers was the legacy of McCarthyism that gripped the United States right as Bradbury

was writing. In letters to Rupert Hart-Davis, a prominent editor at that time, Bradbury

discussed how urgently BB [Ballantine Books] wants to publish this new volume with things

as they are with Senator McCarthy in this country.51 He had worked in Hollywood and knew

the power of the government over authors of subversive literature. This risky political climate

was unfriendly to anything that even hinted at being subversive which forced Bradbury to

take innovate steps to get Fahrenheit 451 published. When he couldnt sell to any magazine

because they were all running scared he defiantly published excerpts in one of the first issues

of Playboy in 1953. Luckily, the editors were brave enough to say the hell with what

McCarthy thinks.52 The defiant tone of Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 shows that he was

aware of the repercussions but was either very dedicated (and possibly too rebellious) to pull

back or tone down his role as Americas cautionary teacher. However, it was a good thing that

49
Steven Aggelis ed. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004: 19.
50
Sam Weller. Listen to the Echo: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn and Chicago: Melville House
Publishing, 2010: 178.
51Ray Bradbury and Hart-Davis, Rupert. "Ray Bradbury's Letters to Rupert Hart-Davis." (The Missouri

Review 27, no. 3, 2004): 131.


52Aggelis,162.
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the genre was also marginalized and not widely regarded as serious, mainstream literature

in the very early 1950s. So when Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451 simply the fringe aspect

of the genre kept it out of the direct brunt of the House Un-American Committee hearings.53

While the novel itself was very popular and gained a lot of notoriety the ideas toward Science

Fiction as a genre, in the eyes of the old men running the government, helped prevent it from

being seen as an immediate threat. Still, after publishing Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury found out

that he had an FBI file. He simply responded, the book was pointing the finger at the

Communists tooI dont care if the FBI spies on me.54 The context of the novel and

Bradburys place in 1950s American culture sets the stage for the many issues that he deals

with directly. One major issue set shows how the 1950s audience deals with the

reverberations from World War II.

World War II affected the American psyche and resulted in mass geopolitical stress in

the late 40s and early 50s (when Fahrenheit 451 was conceived and written), which shows

through in the novel. Direct historical motivation from WWII is illuminated early on in

Bradburys life when he was sitting in a Los Angeles movie theater when he first saw

newsreel footage of Nazis burning books. This image stunned him because he said they

were, burning my alma mater (Bradbury had no formal college training) and he decided

then and there that, I hated book burners and I loved libraries.55 With post-WWII issues, it

53Richard Schwartz. Family, Gender, Society in 1950s American Fiction of Nuclear Apocalypse: Shadow on
the Hearth, Tomorrow!, The Last Day, and Alas, Babylon. (The Journal of American Culture 29, no 4
December 2006): 409.
54Sam Weller. Listen to the Echo: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn and Chicago: Melville House

Publishing, 2010: 178.


55
Eric Wetzel. "The firebrand: fifty years after its publication, Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451 shows no
sign of flaming out." Book (Oct. 2003): 1; Sam Weller. Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203. The Paris
Review. Spring 2010.
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is interesting to see how Fahrenheit 451 deals with the rising tension in the more militarized

society of the 1950s after the dropping of the Atomic Bomb and the rise of containment.

On one hand technical advancement showed American ingenuity and superiority in the

Cold War. Yet it forced people to contemplate the destruction of the entire human race as a

plausible, short-term scenario for humanity, which became a terrifyingly real possibility

when the USSR acquired the H-Bomb in 1953.56 Montags society in Fahrenheit 451 is

constantly bombarded with violent war propaganda about how: We have mobilized a million

men. Quick victory is ours if war comes while bombers light up the sky as the society is

always on the brink of another war.57 Later in the novel, Montag gets fed up with the

pervasive military presence at all times. In front of Mildreds friends he exasperatingly asks,

how the hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Weve started

and won two atomic warsweve forgotten the world and continues to ponder how the

world became so aggressive and hateful.58 This constant tension shows how clearly this novel

is a post-WWII book and Bradbury was using it to speak for his fellow Americans who were

constantly on edge after seeing the astounding destruction that brought the war to an end.

Montags experience sheds light on the attitude that some people felt towards the

militarization of societies in the Cold War. In a survey of thousands of American high school

students who were prompted with questions about a possible nuclear war, time and time

again, the students described their universe as a highly uncertain one, its people greedy and

irrational, its future questionable. These students in the 50s sound like theyre describing the

56Richard Schwartz, 406.


57Bradbury,Fahrenheit451,91.
58Ibid,75.
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world of Fahrenheit 451! Furthermore the study concluded that, the terror and horror of

nuclear war are immediate and vivid for young people and the threat of nuclear war

contributes to their tendencies toward impulsivity and immediacy which shows possibly why

Bradbury would have such a strong anti-war protagonist.59 In a more immediate way,

Bradbury uses Montag to show that the growing political and cultural authority of science in

the nuclear age meant that science itself came to be feared as a potentially totalitarian

force.60 By looking into the issues that are important to Montag, Fahrenheit 451 becomes a

case study that illuminates the conversation that the scientific community was having right

after the Atomic Bomb was dropped. The Manhattan Project scientists, along with many

people in society, started to ponder the international ramifications of the atomic bomb and

the steps necessary to avoid future nuclear warfare and they carried on a lively and

imaginative campaign for civilian and international control of atomic energy which

successfully culminated in the McMahon Act.61 No wonder there was such a constant tension

between seeing technology as a saving grace and as a powerfully destructive world ending

force.

However, not all of this attention on political consciousness and world issues spurred

great political activism in the United States during the time directly proceeding WWII. In fact,

it often had the opposite affect on people who were simply trying to ignore the reality.

According to Sam Weller, it appeared as if economically prosperous Americans had

59Richard Zweigenhaft. Providing Information and Shaping Attitudes about Nuclear Danger: Implications for
Public Education. Political Psychology (9 sep. 1985): 462, 463.
60Jessica Wang. Scientists and the Problem of the Public in Cold war America, 1945-1960. Osiris 2, 17

(2002): 325.
61
Ibid, 328, 329.
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forgotten the war years, which Bradbury illuminated in Fahrenheit 451.62 When Mildred has

a viewing party, Montag notices that the womens husbands are away. When he inquires

about their husbands, one woman says Army called Pete yesterday. Hell be back next

weekquick warIm not worried and continues to nonchalantly talk about how its

always someone elses husband who dies. Absolutely devoid of emotion and desensitized to

the violence of war she continues to say, Pete and I always said no tearshe said, if I get

killed off, you just go right ahead and dont cry, but get married again.63 Montag gets so

upset at the disinterest in the militarization of the world, he yells, Why doesnt someone

want to talk about it!64 Bradbury wanted to spur a rational dialogue on war and the

justification for use of violence to achieve American sociopolitical aims. He was, frightened

by the new atomic world and potential consequences of what society would do with modern

technology.65 It is true that there was a trend of, general absence of Cold War politics from

1950s television programming [which] may have been a response to the horrifying nature of

the subject.66 Paul Boyer, in By the Bombs Early Light talks about a cooling off period where

the subject of nuclear war and military build up was taboo, immediately proceeding WWII

(but this trend was quickly reversed).67 Today, WWII seems like a major force that could not

have possibly been pushed under the rug, but the sheer horror of war made it difficult to

swallow for people living at that time.

In Fahrenheit 451 we were given a glimpse into how Americans showed both

ignorance and anxiety when facing the hostile and aggressive geopolitical stressors of the 50s.

62
Weller, The Bradbury Chronicles, 202.
63
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 93.
64
Ibid.
65
Weller, The Bradbury Chronicles, 202.
66
Richard Schwartz, 407.
67
Paul Boyer. By the Bombs Early Light. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press,
1985.
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When it was written, the novel showed the American public the dangers of engaging in such a

tense quasi-war like the Cold War; it could lead to the American public being shut off from

activism and desensitized to the horrors of war that was a political reality. However, even in

the face of all the negative geopolitical stress that came with the dropping of the Atomic

Bomb and the beginning of the Cold War, there was a movement in America to cast these

developments in a positive light.

Fahrenheit 451 plays on the fears of American nuclear war possibilities somewhat

favorably. This positive trend is often something that is lost in our historical understanding of

this time period. However, the novel astutely captures the philosophical reasons why some

may have seen the militarized society in such a positive way. In Fahrenheit 451, Montags

group of outcast intellectuals are waiting for the war to begin and quickly endwhen the

wars over, [then] perhaps we can be of some use and after a quick scene of bombs drifting

with dreadful swiftness the city is utterly destroyed.68 The intellectuals in the novel see the

bomb as a positive thing and use the well-known phoenix motif to talk about the city. They

quickly realize that it is now their opportunity to use this as a time to build up.69 This

positive view of the atomic bomb complicated the geopolitical stress of the 1950s and helps

bring a new dimension to understanding the Cold War. The reverberations of the Cold War

have been well documented; this idea of happiness, peace, and confidence in the face of the

Atomic Bomb and further militarization of 1950s society is no exception. According to John

Muellers study on Expectations of War During the Cold War, he noted that although war

optimists (as doves) think the hydrogen bomb should not be used and should be restricted by

international agreement, they nevertheless are optimistically inclined to think its existence

68
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 139, 144.
69Ibid,150.
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makes war less likely, and by implication are happy to lend legitimacy to the arms race.70

These positive feelings are confirmed by Paul Boyer when he talks about how some

Republicans at that time thought that dropping the bomb was morally praiseworthy.71 Boyer

goes on to talk about all of the inventive things (like atomic cars, artificial suns, etc) that

were dreamt up along with the highly militaristic geopolitical reality.72 Additionally, an

upbeat article in the St. Luis Post-Dispatch in 1945 declared, imagination leaps forward to

visualize the use of atomic power for mans comfort and enjoyment in generations to come.73

Fahrenheit 451 is valuable because it does a great job at showing both sides of the political

debate. It artfully tackles the varying feelings surrounding the implications of the atomic

bomb, as evidenced by Montags exasperation at the bombers to the wives nonchalance. All

of this culminates in a nuanced showcasing of the rise of technologically that was motivated

by an aggressive geopolitical climate. The novel also showcases the issues surrounding the

rise of mass culture in the 1950s and gives the audience an unprecedented critique of

American social thought.

Mass culture and TV cemented a strong bond in the 1950s when Bradbury was writing

his novel. Yes, there was once genuine concern over this idea of mass culture and

homogenization through TV and the suburban ideal. To help put this invasion of TV into

perspective, when Bradbury was writing in 1945 there were 10,000 TV sets in the U.S. By

1950 there were 5,500,000 TV sets which constitutes a 550% increase!74 TV was centered

around a new visuality, there was a growing emphasis on appearing bright, fresh, and new

70
John Mueller. Expectations of War During the Cold War. American Journal of Political Science, 23, no. 2
(May 1979): 326.
71
Paul Boyer. By the Bombs Early Light. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press,
1985: 195.
72
Ibid., 109.
73
Ibid, 195.
74 Ibid., 55.
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and it toppled old values and rolled over traditional hierarchies.75 This view of TV is most

clearly represented in Mildred, Guys wife in Fahrenheit 451. She describes the characters in

her TV programs as my familythey tell me things; I laugh, they laugh! And the colors!76

She even installed a converter that automatically supplied her name whenever the announcer

addressed his anonymous audience.77 She constantly nags Montag to use 1/3 of his salary to

build a 4th wall of a TV so she could be completely surrounded and inundated by exotic

people.78 In The Dark Ages, Marty Jezer confirms that no other single force has as much

effect in socializing the American people, in shaping their tastes, habits while also,

smoothing out their regional and ethnic differences as did television.79 While this seems

like a fatalistic approach to TV, this mode of thinking was prevalent in Bradburys time.

Fahrenheit 451 is such a groundbreaking novel because Bradbury keenly exploits

social norms that he wants to criticize by using extreme characters (like Mildred) to critique

society. Cotkin furthers the idea that, the new medium of television promoted middle-class

cultural values as normative through commercials and family-oriented shows.80 When asked

about the reality of Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury has repeatedly said that he was trying to warn

that constant simplifications of visual and print media would force total culture to [become]

ignorant and idiotic. He believes mass thought contributes to a totalitarian concept where

society is at the beck and call of everyone with a flimsy idea.81 Many scholars posit that TV

75
Norman Rosenburg. Everyday Culture in the 1950s: Between the Linesand Beyond. Reviews in American
History 24, no 1 (March 1996): 152.
76
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 74.
77
Ibid, 69.
78
Ibid, 33.
79
Marty Jezer. The Dark Ages: Life in the United States 1945-1960. Boston: South End Press, 1982: 129.
80
George Cotkin. The Commerce of Culture and Criticism. In The Colombia History of Post-World War II
America, Edited by Mark C. Carnes. New York: Colombia Univ. Press, 2007: 180.
81
Aggelis, 141.
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and visual advertising helped promote mass produced consumer items, which helped only to

further the mass homogenization that Fahrenheit 451 cautions against.

Cheap products produced in bulk and sold to the masses as must have items helped

lead to mass homogenization and conformity in the 1950s. The economic boom after WWII

when Fahrenheit 451 was written is evidenced by the fact that household furnishings and

appliance purchases climbed 240 percentthe median family income rose 30 percent in

purchasing power and the suburban population increased at a faster rate than the general

population.82 There was a huge market for mass produced goods, but prosperity was

eroding the class identity of the American worker.83 In Montags world, there are two-

hundred-foot-long billboards in the country and the virtue, the bigger the marketthe less

you handle controversy reigns supreme.84 Even religion in Fahrenheit 451 is subject to mass

commercialization when priests make veiled references to certain commercial products that

every worshiper absolutely needs.85Anywhere Montag goes he feels like he is vomited

upon with advertising (i.e. Denhams Dentifrice) and recognizes that advertising is trying to

sell everyone on conformity through products that level down and help everyone agree.86

Bradbury was using Fahrenheit 451 to wake America up to show the concerning view that,

for example, Europeans saw Americans as a race of materialistssuccesses are described in

82Shelly Nickles. More is Better: Mass Consumption, Gender, and Class Identity in Postwar America.
American Quarterly 54, no 4 (December 2002): 584.
83Ibid.
84Bradbury,Fahrenheit451,24;64.
85Ibid,82.
86Ibid,80;61.
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terms of automobiles and not in terms of worthwhile cultural works of any kind. Spiritual and

intellectual values were deemed to be almost nonexistent in our country.87

Mass culture, fed by the amazing power of the American workers to create mass

products at a rate of production that grew 50% from 1947-1953, was seen as a possible

avenue to totalitarianism by cheapening life, by denying to human beings any real satisfying

experience.88 This novel complicates the romanticized vision of the 1950s as a utopia by

assuming that mass consumption and productivity that led to consumer wealth is always a

good thing. Fahrenheit 451 showed it as hedonism and ignorance joined. Mildred and Guys

hedonistic society would have resonated with readers from the 50s and made them realize that

America in the 1950s was not too far off from the unsettling society in Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury was able to use his characters to showcase the consequences of mass culture as it

relates to the numbing of individuals in American society.

Bradbury does not stop at showing Americans how it is it wrong to buy in to the

mindless consumer culture just by the virtue of it crushing individuality and leading to boring

materialism. Fahrenheit 451 demonstrates the issue of adolescent rebellion and suburban

unhappiness as a result of mass cultural expectations in the 50s. In 1954, adolescents and stay

at home mothers needed to conform to the ideal of having goals or run the risk of get[ting]

nowhere simply because they do not know where they want to go. They have no clear-cut,

87Greg Barnhisel. Cold Warriors of the Book: American Book Programs in the 1950s. Book History 13,
(2010): 190-191.
88 Steve Muffatti, Opportunities Unlimited. Forbes and Time Magazine, 1956, 16 min., 38 sec.; MPEG.

http://www.archive.org/details/opportunities_unlimited; George Cotkin. The Tragic Predicament: Post-war


American Intellectuals, Acceptance and Mass Culture. In Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to
Salman Rushie, Edited by Jeremy Jennings and Anthony Kemp-Welch, 248-270. New York: Routlage, 1997:
254.
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precisely defined purpose.89 Bradbury exploits this rise in unhappiness and rebellion in these

two disenfranchised groups (adolescents and suburbanites) when he talks about how a car

full of children, all agesout whistling, yelling, hurrahing who saw Montag and thought

Lets get him and made a game out of trying to hit him with the car.90 In Bradbury fashion,

he is able to use an extreme character, Clarisse, to demonstrate and call out the current issue

of adolescent rebellion that he saw around him while he was writing Fahrenheit 451.

The deeper issue that Fahrenheit 451 explores is that of a society that is unfeeling and

uncompassionate. This novel illuminates the concerns of society when Clarisse tells Montag

how the isolationist school system has made her afraid of children my own age. They kill

each othersix of my friends have been shot. Shes even deemed abnormal because she

doesnt bully people around or break windowpanes.91 In America in the 1940s and 50s the

growing rate of adolescent rebellion showed that the young were learning the underlying

values of postwar society while ignoring the glossy suburban image.92 Families that gave

into this mass culture idea of suburbia allowed the fragmentation of the familywith the

decline of agriculture [and] small towns.93 This interpretation complicates the often-

cherished fantasy that to have achieved American suburban life in the 50s was equal to self-

actualization. Guy and Mildred too live in a neighborhood with rows of tract houses where

everyone is self-absorbed and keeps to themselves. As far as Fahrenheit 451 acts as a broad

look at the issues of mid-century America, its clear that Mildreds unhappiness shows in her

numerous attempts to kill herself and the EMTs response that (in regard to suburban suicides)

89
Irene Thompson. Individualism and Conformity in the 1950s vs. 1980s. Sociological Forum 7, no 3 (Sep.,
1992): 503.
90
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 119.
91
Ibid, 41.
92
Jezer, 237.
93
Ibid, 224.
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got so many, starting a few years ago, we had the special machines built.94 Mildred simply

wakes up and goes about her business, ignoring her suicide attempt and not wanting to even

admit it to Guy. This scene is telling in that it brings out the prevailing thought that in the 50s

that, no allowances are made for individual idiosyncrasies so speaking out about

unhappiness was not as suitable as it is today.95 Part of this unhappiness could be seen by

people in the 1950s [who] not only face internal conflicts, they must also deal with the

difficulties of the compartmentalized self.the domestic self, the business self, the religious

selfhoused in one body but remain strangers to one another.96 This is just as suburbia and

mass culture has dictated that Mildred should concentrate on her fake family, which leads to

her isolation from Guy. Mass culture and homogenization in the 1950s led to unprecedented

pressure to conform, which is one of the Cold War values that dictated American political life

and is so clearly shown in Fahrenheit 451.

Cold War politics, polarization, and conformity were at its height in 1953 when

Fahrenheit 451 was published. As mentioned previously, Bradburys status as a liberal

thinker during this conservative age put him at a precarious position to speak out about

McCarthyism and Cold War political conformity that worried many Americans. The era of

McCarthyism thrived on mass spectacle, a theme that is confronted in the novel as well.

Montag notes that, always at night the alarm comes. Never by day! and convincingly

purposes that the reason is, more spectacle, a better show?97 When they stop to burn

Montags house, the equivalent of a government worker being put on trial by the House Un-

American Committee in the 1950s, the lights flickered on and house doors opened all down

94Bradbury,Fahrenheit451,29.
95Thompson,502.

96Ibid,501.
97Bradbury,Fahrenheit451,49.
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the street, to watch the carnival set up.98 Even when Montag is on the run the government

pushes thousands of faces to peer into yards.99 Just like the typical ending to most

McCarthy cases, an innocent man is killed in Montags place.100Fahrenheit 451 gives readers

an inside look at the steps and processes that showcase the persecution under McCarthyism. It

gives us a glimpse at a totalitarian consumer society. An article that recounts the victimization

supported by McCarthy and his thugs found the, House Un-American Activities Committee

hearings were mass spectacles of the media where people would confess and then

demonstrate their rehabilitation to prove their allegiance to the new world order of cold war

domestic conformity. Furthermore, the Committee's theatrical politics borrowed from the

spectacle of game shows that came into their heyday with the advent of TV, which shows

how closely Cold War politics were connected with mass culture and homogenization of

thought.101 Fahrenheit 451 critiques two major facts of life that were dear to audiences in the

50s: TV and Communist ousting as shown by Mildreds obsession with her walls and the

bigger issue of hunting out the subversive book readers. The Committee hearings came at an

especially bad time for those who were accused because with television, it seemed almost

impossible not to be touched in some way by the barrage of official and unofficial Cold War

publicity.102 Government secrecy, as an extension of other abuses, worried Americans.

On top of the reverberations from the McCarthy hearings, government secrecy was an

issue that shaped American minds during the 50s. Montags flight from the city borrows its

context from the right to know movement. This was basically the call from the public for

98Ibid,106.
99Ibid,128.
100 Ibid,136.
101Jim Finnegan. Edwin Rolfes Historical Witness to the Spectacle of McCarthyism. College Literature 33,
no 3 (Summer 2006): 138.
102Tony Shaw. The Politics of Cold War Culture. Journal of Cold War Studies 3, no 3 (Fall 2001): 59.
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freedom and transparency of information from governmental organizations that occurred in

the early 1950s. Bradbury was concerned that the American press voluntarily withheld

information for patriotic reasons, so through the killing of an innocent man in Montags case

he gave Americans a classic example of why freedom of information should always be

respected.103 The real tragedy of McCarthyism was the affect of the us vs. them polarity that

was created out of this mass spectacle.

In a nation that was ready for witch hunts a paranoia-fueled toxic divide formed

between those who were loyal to the United States and its mission in the Cold War and those

that were supposedly subversive. True, this witch-hunt mentality did build a community by

excluding some as other, but this destructive mode of building bonds for an exclusive group

was troubling. This split parallels the gap in Fahrenheit 451 between the hedonistic pleasure

seekers that never questioned the government and the subversive book reading intellectuals.104

The McCarthy period pushed Americans to view, all non-Americans as undifferentiated

foreigners, different from us but like each other thanks to the government using culture as

a form of political persuasion and the even greater onus placed on propaganda during the

Cold War.105 In Fahrenheit 451 insidious propaganda by the government led neighbors to

report each other for being subversive. It even convinced Mildred to call an alarm on Guy

because of the irrational fear that she holds (instilled by the government) to the contradictory

ideas in books.106 The fire captain Beatty can be seen as the most closely identifiable figure to

McCarthy. He comes to Montags house to reassert the importance of the book burning

103
Kiyul Uhm. The Cold War Communication Crisis: The Right to Know Movement. Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly 82, no 1 (Spring 2005): 131-134.
104
Kevin Hoskinson. The Martian Chronicles and 'Fahrenheit 451': Ray Bradbury's Cold War Novels.
Extrapolation 36, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 346.
105
Shaw, 74; Lucian Pye. Political Culture Revisited. Political Psychology 12, no 3 (1991): 489.
106
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 46, 107.
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(subversive idea destroying) profession. Beatty rails against books which can easily be

replaced with the word subversive thinkers and its right back to the 1950s witch-hunt

culture that Bradbury was satirizing. To Beatty, books say nothing and ruin the idea that

we must all be alike as he goes on to assert that firemen need to keep the public happy by

not allowing diverse opinions. For example, if you dont want a man unhappy politically,

dont give him two sidesgive him none.107Fahrenheit 451 critiques the silencing of

Communist opinions during the difficult Red Scare era. In the novel, when someone is found

with books the police come in and adhesive-tape the victims mouth and the firemen berate

the subversive people for holding books and thinking that they can defy the law that demands

conformity.108

Finally, when Montag is revealed as a subversive who likes to read books he is forced

to flee to the hobo camps. These are located on the outskirts of the cities where people with

Harvard degrees have been hunted and exiled from the cities. This is a visual representation of

the us vs. them polarity and shows that Bradburys characters basically meet the same fate

as those whose careers were ruined during the McCarthy era.109 These blacklisted

intellectuals are similar to the Hollywood Ten who were unfriendly witnesses who

refused to answer HUACs questions on the grounds that their First Amendment rights

protected them from being questioned about their political beliefs. There were also 208

actors who were blacklisted just for supporting the Hollywood Ten.110 Fahrenheit 451 also

pokes fun at the idea of the loyalty oaths through characters like Beatty who constantly

harasses and lectures Montag to make sure that he remains committed and loyal to upholding

107
Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 61-68.
108
Ibid, 46, 48.
109
Ibid, 122.
110
Schwartz, 408.
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the firemans oath. The real United States Federal loyalty oaths were created in, March

1947a program that would dismiss any federal employee found to be disloyal and required

employees to sign a contract that they will be faithful to American values.111 The well

documented clash of ideology and cultures between American democracy and freedom versus

Communist repression pushed the government to turn to bureaucracy to promote home-front

mobilization through patriotism that turned common Americans into Communist ousters.112

It was difficult being an American intellectual during the Red Scare because even the

Office of Education created a program of Zeal for Democracy that attempted to distort and

bias education (through purges and biased material) that created a hoard of young children

who were overly fearful of Communism.113 Fahrenheit 451 helped to throw the dehumanizing

Communist witch-hunts back in the face of overzealous patriots by painting a world that had

been extrapolated out with leaders like Joseph McCarthy. The mass spectacle of the

accusations and trials, thanks to the mass culture movement, only served to make the us vs.

them polarity more resilient. All of this came at a time when Americans needed to come

together to have a civilized discourse on the validity of differing opinions. Fahrenheit 451

helped to call out those Americans who allowed the government to reign supreme during the

McCarthy Cold War era.

In a contemporary sense, the novel helps to caution Americans against extreme and

sensational political movements that obscure true democracy. Fahrenheit 451 allows 21st

century readers a chance to step back from our heavily inundated advertising culture. The

novel is so relevant today because we have seen an even stronger trend toward self-absorption

111
Uhm, 135.
112
Andrew Grossman. The Early Cold War and American Political Development: Reflections on Recent
Research. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 15, no. 3 (Spring 2002): 481.
113
Jezer, 88-89.
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with social media. This growth creates a false feeling of virtual friendship, which devalues

true human connection; this is something that anti-isolationist Clarisse McClellan would have

railed against.114 In the same vein, the sensational 24 hour news networks that have taken a

hold of rational political discourse as predicted by Bradbury have felt a pushback from, for

example, the recent Washington, DC Rally to Restore Sanity that had a record turnout.115

The novel allows us to evaluate the militaristic world as it is today, to see the similarities and

potential outcomes of unrestrained aggression. The crises and ongoing violence in the Middle

East forces Americans today to live in that constantly violent culture that Montag despised.

Most importantly to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 helps us realize that the publics

willingness to support the decline of reading and library usage will lead to a hedonistic and

ignorant society. This has manifested even more today, with the current rate of technology

and varying ways that students are seeking information. In a tangible sense, fourty-one

percent of states report declining state funding for U.S. public libraries in fiscal year 2009

with some budgets being slashed up to 30%.116 Contemporary America is really the

beneficiary of the world that Bradbury was satirizing.

Fahrenheit 451 is an absolute historical goldmine, which is why it is absolutely crucial

to synthesize the interpretations in order to better understand the context of the novel and the

difficult time it which it was written. Ray Bradbury helped to expose America to itself, for

better or worse, when many other authors were afraid to do so. The brilliant way the novel

shows extremes that are easily relatable to the 1950s culture makes it immensely valuable for

114
Fahrenheit 451-Relevance in the Age of New Media, Wordpress, accessed May 20, 2011,
http://blog.felinemusings.com/2009/09/08/fahrenheit-451/.
115
The Rally to Restore Sanity Causes a Mainstream Media Meltdown, Politics USA, accessed May 15, 2011,
http://www.politicususa.com/en/restore-sanity-media.
116
State Funding for Many Public Libraries on Decline, American Library Association, accessed May 13,
2011, http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2009/february2009/orscosla.cfm.
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historians who want to learn what people thought about their society. Enough years have

passed since the novel was published that it can be praised for how well it painted the future

while critiquing the realities of society at that time. The combination of the various scholarly

works along with the primary source of Fahrenheit 451 shows how America was shaped and

changed by the ideas of mutually assured destruction, mass homogenization of culture, and

Cold War strife.